Six of us (my husband and I, my parents, and my uncle and aunt) sailed Carnival's Elation out of Galveston January 25th through February 1st, 2004. This was my husband and mine's 3rd cruise (2nd on Carnival) and everyone else's 2nd cruise (both on Carnival). There is probably more information here than anyone wants to know, but I'm sure some fellow detail oriented person will appreciate it! Enjoy...
Sunday - Departure - We arrived at the terminal about 11:00 am. We dropped off our luggage with a very nice porter. He did not check any of our documents (like others on the board had mentioned had been happening at other terminals). We went upstairs to wait for our two drivers to return from parking the cars.
Once they arrived, we got in our first of 4 lines - X-ray - which moved very quickly. We moved on to line number two - check-in - where we were handed a flier stating that we would be boarding early, but not to go to our rooms until 1:00. The fun pass line was quite long, so we decided to go through the regular check-in line. Although the fun pass line moved faster than the regular check-in line, there were many more people, so we actually made it through faster than the fun pass line. We spent about 5 minutes checking in with the clerk and moved on to line number three - boarding photo. They had two lines here with two photographers so we moved through quickly, only to end up in line number four - where we had our picture taken to match our sail and sign card, and then were on our way to board. We set foot on the Empress Deck at 12:50. With only 10 minutes till 1:00, we decided to go to our rooms E95, E99 and E103, and found them ready for us! We unpacked our carry-ons and headed to Tiffany's on the Lido deck to have lunch...salad and pizza!!
The ladies took the Ship Tour offered at 2:30 while the guys rested in the cabins. The Ship Tour, given by Ryan, the Social Host, was OK. It was nice to walk around and see the ship, but I think it would be better to have a flyer that guided you through the different areas of the ship. There was not a large group for the tour, but it was hard to keep up, sometimes we head to weave through crowded areas, and it was difficult to hear him most of the time. Overall, it still helped us learn our way around the ship.
After the ship tour, we headed back to the room to get ready for the lifeboat drill. Our luggage had arrived, so we unpacked before the drill. We grabbed the life jackets and made our way to muster station B, Elation's Way - nice place to have to wait and not very crowded. When they called for all muster stations to move to life boats, station B was the last to go. We were on deck at the lifeboats for 15 minutes tops. Pretty quick and painless.
After the drill, we booked our Progresso excursion (the only one we booked with Carnival) and went up to the Verandah deck for sailing. Had a Fun Ship drink of the day (YUMMY!!!) and went for a burger and fries. We went back to our room to wait for the free liquor tasting - they had mostly rums to taste, but it was nice to try before you buy - and looked around the shops before we headed to dinner. After dinner, we headed back to the room to check out the capers for our first day at sea.
Monday - 1st day at sea - Didn't make it up in time for the 9:15 shopping talk, but after watching it on TV, wished we had been there for some of the goodies she gave out! We went to the 10:45 travel talk, which was very informative. Larry, the cruise director, had a powerpoint presentation, so he had lots of pictures of the ports and excursions which was nice. Although we already knew what we were going to do at the ports, it helped us know what to do the next time we go to the ports. Both of these talks were on the TV the rest of the day, so if you don't make it to the "live" performance, you can always catch it in reruns.
After lunch, we went to the art pre-view and art auction. We had never been to an art auction before, so we wanted to see what we were missing. The answer is...nothing. We wasted our afternoon. Unless you are really interested in buying art, I wouldn't go.
Tonight was formal night, so we played around the ship a bit and then got ready for dinner. Had plenty of pictures taken and enjoyed the Captain's Cocktail party! The after dinner show was good. Our Progreso tour tickets were in our room when we returned.
Tuesday - Progreso, Mexico - I was up for the Progreso sunrise and watched us pull to the dock, and got he first glimpse of the 7 km long pier. We took the Dzibilchaltun Mayan Ruins 4 hour tour to say we had seen some ruins without having to spend an entire day (like the Chichen Itza tour - however I spoke with one couple who very much enjoyed Chichen Itza, they just didn't feel there was enough time at the ruins due to the traveling). We boarded a nice air conditioned bus for our 20 minute ride to the ruins.
Our guide, Dario, was of Mayan descent and gave us a very informative talk on the Mayans. Once we arrived at the ruins, we stayed with Dario for a portion of the tour, then went off on our own to explore. We climbed the structures and spent some time watching swimmers at the cenote (swimming hole). We looked through the little gift shop at the ruins (things seemed too expensive to us) and met back at our bus at the designated time for our drive back to the ship. We walked through the shops at the pier, where you could find some of the same things from the ruins gift shop cheaper. The wind was blowing like crazy, so we didn't spend much time here, and got back on board.
We had lunch and rested in our room. The dinner menu did not look very good to us, so we all had an early dinner at Tiffany's and spent the evening playing Dominoe's in Spirals. The sea was very rough, and we heard that the dining room was ¾ empty because so many people were sick.
Wednesday - Cozumel, Mexico - We got off the ship and headed for a taxi to take us to the Havana Club for my husband's cigars. We shared a cab with another couple who were also headed downtown. When they got out we asked the driver how much further to Havana Club and he said 2 blocks, so we got out. It ended up being about 6, but we walked through some of the shops on our way. After my husband stocked up at Havana Club, we caught a taxi to Chankanaab Park for our dolphin swims.
We booked directly with Dolphin Discovery for 2 royal swims and 2 encounters. We got to the park, paid our admission fee and checked in with Dolphin Discovery. They gave us our bands and instructions and we headed to the beach area to wait. It was sunny and warm, but the wind was really blowing. My husband and aunt did the royal swim and had a blast. Because of the wind, the waves in the dolphin pool were pretty high, so things were a little difficult, but they said it didn't take away from the experience at all. My uncle and I did the dolphin encounter and had a ball! We purchased the video for my husband and aunt for $49. The video for the encounter is only $29, but there wasn't as much to see on it. There are plenty of pictures to purchase, and they cut you a deal the more you buy. If you do this, make sure you buy the t-shirts in the gift shop for $9.99 that say you swam with the dolphins. You can choose a shirt with the dolphin you actually swam with. It's a great souvenir.
We left the park about 3:30 and caught a cab back to the pier. We walked through the shops and bought a few souvenirs, then ate at Pancho's Backyard for some authentic Mexican food. Food was good, but they have GREAT guacamole. Got back on the ship and sat up on deck to watch us sail away from Cozumel. Sat in the whirlpool for a while then got dressed for dinner. My parents went to the "Pure Country" show, and said it was not pure country.
Thursday - Belize City, Belize, Central America - We booked a snorkel tour with Coral Breeze in Belize. Since we weren't on a Carnival tour, we had to get tender tickets to get ashore. My aunt arrived at the lounge 20 minutes before the scheduled time. There was a passenger there that was writing down names as people arrived. When the Carnival employee arrived with the tickets, the gentleman showed her the list and said they all deserved the first tickets, which we got. After that, it was a free for all. They said the first non-tour tender wouldn't leave until 9:30, and they called for it about 9:35. They didn't tell you where to meet for the tenders so we were waiting in the atrium on the Elation deck. They called for tender tickets numbered 1 and 2 to meet in the Cole Porter Lounge. By the time we got up to the deck, they were already walking out, so we just filed in line. Some people were wearing their tender sticker, but we weren't. No one every asked to see our number.
It was raining, so it was a little tricky getting into the tender boat. It was a nice size boat that held probably up to 75 people. It took about 15 minutes to get to shore. We went to the flagpole area to meet Coral Breeze, but it took us a few minutes to find them since they weren't out in the open due to the rain. We were their second tour of the day and there were 17 of us from the Elation. Their first tour left at 8am with passengers from the Splendour of the Seas because they left port at 2pm. Since there were two tours, we didn't get the boat that you see on their website. We had a covered boat which was nice since it was raining, but it wasn't as nice or as big as the one we were expecting. It was owned and captained by the gentleman who owns the Rainbow Cafe where we ordered lunch on Caye Caulker.
We left right on time at 10am. Our guide was Natalie and she was outstanding. We took about a 40 minute boat ride out to Caye Caulker, and after dropping off our lunch order at the Rainbow Cafe and taking a bathroom break, we headed to our first stop at Coral Gardens. Just to let you know, you get out of the boat in about 30 foot water, then snorkel over to the Great Barrier Reef, which is about 4-5 foot of water. With the rain and the wind, it was quite a swim! The boat then picks you up and takes you over to Shark Ray Alley, which was awesome. You could see them swarming the boat as we pulled up because they were expecting to be fed. After spending time there, we headed to Caye Caulker for lunch.
As we arrived, about 1:00, the sun came out and the rest of the day was beautiful. We had a nice lunch at the Happy Lobster since the Rainbow Cafe was busy. It was good, and I recommend the Club Sandwich. We then had time to walk around the island, which was nice. We bought some t-shirts, and some fresh pineapple (Yum, Yum) and got back on the boat. On the ride back to Belize, we saw dolphins, so the captain stopped and followed them around for a little bit. It was really neat! Once we got back to Belize, we walked around the tourism village a little bit and then caught the next to last tender back to the boat.
Since lunch had worn off, we had a light snack as we were sailing away. We went to the cabin to rest, then got dressed for dinner. After such a long day, we crashed right after dinner.
Friday - 2nd day at sea - We did nothing but lay out on deck since this was the first really nice day we'd had. Tonight was the second formal night and the past guest party. The party was nice with good drinks!! Had a few more pictures taken and then off to dinner. We went to the show which was good. We stayed up to take pictures of the midnight buffet in the Imagination dining room. We sat out on deck for a while, and as we made our way to our room about 1am, there was still a line of people waiting to get in to eat the buffet. There wasn't much there I'd wait in line for, but of course we had just finished dinner not too long ago!
Saturday - 3rd day at sea - The sun was out in the morning, but as the day went on, the wind and the rain picked up. They moved some of the deck activities inside. We spent the entire day in the cabin, except for lunch and dinner, either sleeping or watching movies. We spent some time cleaning up the room and packing things up. We had our final dinner, and afterwards had champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to celebrate our travels.
Sunday - Debarkation at Galveston - We got up and were at breakfast at 7:30. They called the first group through immigration starting at 7:45. We were the 4th or 5th group called and moved through very quickly. We went back to our room to pack up the last few things and head to the promenade deck to wait. They called our group off the ship at 9:30, and by 10:05 we were in the car and headed home. We decided next time that we would not have breakfast until after we had gone through immigration so that we didn't have to wait so long between immigration and debarkation.
Room - the room was very nice. Sheldon, our room steward, seemed to always know when we left, because at times I had to run back to the room, and it was already made up! Just a few comments...
The TV gets NBC, CBS and ABC (they were all by satellite and were from different places). They have 3 movie stations, 2 for adults and 1 for kids. For the remaining channels, one shows the talks, one shows a bridge and engine room video and another shows part of the travel log that is filmed all throughout the cruise.
If you have the twin beds put together as a queen, they don't have queen sized bedspreads, so you only get a twin to lay across the lower half of the bed. They did have an extra blanket, which we used all the time. The room temperature was great. We like it cold, and we weren't disappointed. We did close the vent up a couple of times because it just got too cold. Beware of the water temperature in the bathroom shower. It was hard to regulate, and would go from scalding hot to freezing cold without warning, so we had to keep adjusting it.
Photos - This is only my opinion, but I would like to see a decrease in the amount of pictures they want to take of you. I don't mean the formals - I love being able to have so many different shots to choose from. I'm talking about the random photos on board, and the photos taken at the ports. At Cozumel, we had to take 3 pictures before we could leave the ramp...one with the life preserver (which I don't mind) and then 2 with characters. On board, 2 nights you couldn't get out of the dining room without having to stop for a picture. One time we politely said no, and heard some comments made by the photo staff. This might help reduce the prices of the formal photos since they don't have all the expense of developing all the others, which I noticed most people disposing of.
Food - Overall, the food was great. A couple of entrees in the dining room were not very good. Pizza, hamburgers and ice cream was great as always. For a treat, may I recommend stopping by the Musical Cafe for chocolate covered strawberries ($4 for 6) and the chocolate cake ($2 a slice). Both very well worth it. Room service was nice for a quick snack. We always received it very quickly. We always had breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck and dinner in the dining room. Our wait staff, Ruben and Mr. Jose were both wonderful! We were the only table they had so we were well attended and were usually the first ones out of the dining room!
General Comments - Although the welcome aboard documents say no jeans in the dining room, the capers state "Proper attire requested. No shorts or beachwear, please!" There were people in jeans, some looked very nice, some not so nice. There were also men in baseball caps, and one man in flip flops with his beer. It didn't really detract from my dining experience, but it would have been nice to have seen him turned away and asked to return properly dressed.
Larry the cruise director was good. Not "cheesy" like others have been called. We really enjoyed him. He never seemed like he was trying too hard to be funny, it just came naturally. The crew was so friendly. They always said hello, good morning/afternoon/evening when they passed.
This was a sold out cruise with 2104 passengers aboard. As for the make up of the passengers, there were more older people (60s and up) on this cruise than any other age group. I would say there were no more than 50 kids on board, so we didn't have many problems that others have posted about. The longest line I ever stood in was to get into the dining room, but there wasn't a wait once they opened the doors since everyone went straight to their table.
We had a couple of bad days/nights at sea with some really high waves hitting the boat, and rocking from one side to the other. My aunt caught a bottle of ketchup sliding off the table in Tiffany's!! I have the capers from the trip, and will get those scanned as soon as I can. I also have plenty of pictures to upload, so I'll post that link once I'm finished. I'm sure I forgot something, so if there are any questions that I can answer please let me know and I'd be more than happy to answer them. To sum up, this was a great cruise and we would not hesitate to do it again!!